Phenomenon of Mesrop Mashtots, as a Symbol of the Eternity of the Armenian Nation and His Role for Historical Importance -
By Lilia Grigorian
Armenia is an ancient country, the contemporary of Greece, ancient Rome, Babylon, with the ancient cultural roots, extending over thousands of years.
The famous Armenian writer, Gevorg Emin said: “Centuries come and pass in the life of Armenian people. Yet centuries come without passing. They have remained as a cuneiform records monuments and destroyed fortress. By looking at them, it is possible for us to become familiar with the history of the Armenian Land and Armenian people.” It is not accidental, that English poet Lord Byron has compared Armenia to “An open air museum, where one will be able to study the centuries old history of the Armenian people starting from the legendary ARK of NOAH, without using a textbook…” Lord Byron has rightly stated that “There is no country on earth filled with so many wonders than the Land of Armenia.” Or the greatest contemporary painter Rockwell Kent, has stated that “If I were asked were on the planet most of the miracles happen, I would mention first and foremost the name of Armenia…”, then he continued his thought “One is astonished witnessing in a small corner of the world such magnificent monuments and talented figures who could be worthy of the pride and admiration of the entire world…”
There are many wonders in this earth: the valley of pyramids, the coliseum of ancient Rome, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, and many others. In Armenia, among of many wonders, is Matenadaran – a Museum of ancient books and manuscripts that were collected from around the world. The Museum bears the name of the learned priest Mesrop Mashtots.
Sixteen centuries ago, at the beginning of the fifth century, in 405, Mesrop Mashtots discovered the Armenian alphabet. The invention of the Armenian alphabet was the most powerful factor in the national spirit; it strengthen the Armenian nation in the most difficult period. In 387, Armenia lost its independence and was divided between the Byzantine Empire and Persia. Loss of civil independence could destroy whole nation. The Armenian language did not have an alphabet. Before the fifth century Armenians had spoken language, but it was not written. The Armenian language and alphabet, were destroyed during the establishment of Christianity in Armenia. Armenian language, along with many other temples, scriptures, books and anything that reminded the early Christians of pagan past, was destroyed and, as a sign of ‘paganism’ regarded as unholy. Most of Armenian schools were using other language, such as Green and Syriac. For preaching mass and worships, and for other Christian ceremonies, were using the Greek language which was regarded as the official language for the Royal Court. Armenia stand against the possibility assimilation and melting into Iran and Byzantium. Mesrop Mashtotz saw the potential danger that could turn the Armenian nation into a disastrous situation. The discovery of the Armenian alphabet was the great need and would became the only unifying force for all Armenian nation against foreign assimilation and would make Armenia a distinct nation. Mashtotz took the responsibility of revival of the common Armenian language.
In 394, the Armenian King Vramshapuh, who succeeded his brother Khosrov IV in 389, with the support of Patriarch Isaac, and with help of blessing of Armenian’s Catholicos, Sahak Partev, a supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, commissioned Mesrop Mashtots to create an Armenian Alphabet. Mashtots traveled in many regions to research. After much searching and traveling, he returned to Vagharshapat, commonly known as one of the historic capitals of Armenia, the spiritual center of the entire Armenian nation. After embracing Christianity, in 301, Vagharshapat was called Echmiadsin, after the name of the Mother Cathedral, the seat of the Armenian Catholicosate. When Mashtots returned to Echmiadsin with a copy of the divine alphabet, he was warmly welcomed, with great joy and honor by both the Armenian King Vramchapuh Arshakouni and Catholicos Sahag Partev.
The invention of the 36 letters of the Armenian alphabet, was the most powerful factor in the spirit of the Armenian nation. It separated the Armenians from the other nations and made Armenia a distinct nation. Mashtots created a unique alphabet that doesn’t look like any other alphabet in the world. Each letter has its traditional name. In the twelfth century two more letters O and F were added.
In 405 Mashtotz discovered the Armenian alphabet and became the founder of the Armenian bibliography, the first Armenian translator, and the founder of the Armenian schools. Many translations were made among which the translation of the Holy Bible from the Greek and Syriac into the new script, was the first. The Mashtots’ translation of the Bible was so successful that the famous French orientalist M. Lacrosse has rightly called it “The Queen of all the translations” The first sentence in Armenian language written down by Mashtots after he invented the letters is said to be the opening line of Solomon’s Book of Proverbs.
Ճանաչել զիմաստություն եվ զխրատ, իմանալ զբանս հանճարոյ…”
“To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding…”
Book of Proverbs 1:2
Further spread of the new alphabet, was laid for the Armenian philosophy, science and art. Following the discovery of the new alphabet, the golden age of classical Armenian literature began; the fifth century went down into the history of the Armenian nation as a Golden Age. Mesrop founded many schools, and himself taught the new alphabet. Many students of Mesrop became prominent writers, translators and historians. His most talented students and followers were Eznik, Eghisheh, Movses, David and Vardan, MovsesKhorenatsi, Koriun, and many others. Koriunwrote Mashtots’ life, the book called The Life of Mashtots.(Koriun wrote Mashtot’s life in his book The Life of Mashtots).
The splendid discovery also resulted in the establishment in the fifth century of the Museum, internationally known remarkable edifice. Today The Matenadaran Library – Museum in the capital of Armenia, in Yerevan, is a huge depository of ancient books and manuscripts that were collected from around the world. It is not just another Library, it is a priceless collection of rarities, a symbol of Armenia, a pantheon of its thoughts, and a monument to its courage. Many books in Matenadaran include many works of ancient Greek, Armenian, Roman and other ancient nation philosophers and historians. Many of them are ancient Armenian translations and copies of the original works. Yet, they are remarkable, because the originals were lost forever and those translations are now considered to be the only source in the whole world. The Museum bears the name of Mesrop Mashtots.
Linguist, theologian, hymnologist and statesman, Mesrop Mashtots is listed officially in the Roman Martyrology of the Roman Catholic Church. Mesrop Mashtots was born in 362 AD and passed away on February 17th in the year 440. He. was buried in town Oshakan, where the cathedral was later built in his memory. His tomb in Oshakan to this day remains a place of pilgrimage for all Armenians over the world. They come to pay their respect to the great Armenian scholar, who created an Armenian Alphabet and thus, securing forever the eternity of the Armenian nation. Mesrop Mashtotz’s discovery of the 36 letters of the Armenian alphabet stood the test of centuries and became the bulwark of the nation unit and identity of the Armenian people. The Great Scholar gave the Armenian nation the most valuable of gifts: Armenian cultural independence, revival of the common Armenian language, and, thus, strengthened the national spirit.
Armenia was the first country that adopted Christianity as its official state religion in the early fourth century, in 301 AD. At the beginning of the fifth century, in 405, Mesrop Mashtots’s translation of the Holly Bible, proved a powerful factor in Armenia - laid the foundation of a national Armenian liturgy and strengthened the Armenian nation in the Christian Faith.
Mesrop Mashtots is one of the most prominent personalities not only for Armenians, but in the global world history: the distinguished, multi-talented scholar, Christian preacher and missionary, the founder of the new Armenian alphabet that allowed Armenians to preserve their unique culture and identity, the establisher and the beginner of the Golden Age in Armenian literature, founder of new educational institutions in Armenia and laid the foundation of Armenian liturgy. St. Mesrop devoted all his life to spreading Christianity throughout all of the peoples of the Caucasus. In the memory of Mesrop Mashtots, the Armenian nation celebrates his memory on February 19.
“St Mesrop found his right place in the kingdom of God in the heaven, with our Almighty Savior.”
Koryun, Mashtots’, student.